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Skills you need to survive in an IoT world

Hoping to boost your career by cashing in on the IoT wave? Security and big data smarts are the job skills that pay off biggest.

Drinking from a kitchen faucet and drinking from a fire hose are conceptually pretty similar: Both involve pipes, valves, spigots, water, and human anatomy. But just as you need more specialized and harder-to-learn skills to manage the sheer volume of water flowing from the fire hose, network workers and execs need a different class of skills to deal with data flowing through the Internet of Things (IoT).

“When I think of IoT, I think of a whole range of things that are, in a sense, part and parcel of what developers and DevOps and IT people have to think about anyway,” says David Intersimone, vice president of developer communities at Evans Data, a software development market research firm. “You have servers, desktops, networks, and devices, whether they're mobile or PCs, and now thermostats, lighting controls, and security monitors and video surveillance, and on and on and on.”

Old titles, new skills

If you type the terms “IoT” or “Internet of Things” into your favorite job search engine, you’ll see plenty of entries. But look closer: The reality is that they are the same old job titles. Tech placement firm Robert Half Associates posted 20 hot job titles for the world of IoT, and they’re pretty familiar: CIO, CTO, and CSO at the top of the pay scale; project managers, application developers, and software engineers toward the bottom; and big data engineers/scientists, security analysts, network architects, and the like in the middle.

This makes total sense. The IoT doesn’t so much change the functions of a network as it changes its scale.

At some point, though, when a network deals with orders of magnitude more interesting data, managing it requires qualitatively different skills. The key word is more: IoT needs people who can secure more devices, analyze more data, and design more complex networks than a typical corporate network used to.

And “more” does translate to salaries. A Dice tech salary survey found that network and storage skills are lucrative: Where IT salaries generally were flat, skills related to cloud storage and big data paid well. The highest average salaries in the survey went to IT workers who knew HANA ($128,958), MapReduce ($125,009), Cloud Foundry ($124,036), and HBase ($123,459).

If you want to stress your IoT chops, look beyond the sensor-specific buzzwords. In a recent Robert Half survey, 67 percent of tech executives reported that skills in big data, cloud/mobile initiatives, and digital marketing are “the greatest contributing factors to hiring,” and that business intelligence analysts, data scientists, database developers, network admins, and security pros are among the most in-demand roles.

Are you ready for IoT? Much of the impact of this transformation is yet to be felt. See what IT infrastructure you'll need.

Consumers drive IoT…for now

Not all industry sectors are adopting IoT at the same rate. Evans Data surveys 1,400 developers around the world twice a year, and in its latest research found that more than half of those developers are working on commercial non-industrial projects (such as healthcare or e-commerce) or consumer projects (such as smart home or consumer wearables). Just 43 percent are working on industrial projects such as manufacturing or construction, and only 14 percent are involved with smart city or civil infrastructure projects.

Evans Data's Intersimone (known universally as “David I”) points out that commercial and consumer projects are lower hanging fruit, with bigger business opportunities as they move closer to consumers. Industrial projects are more complex and higher stakes. In short, it’s easier to build an app than an airliner.

"These are big-ticket items," Intersimone says. “Big factories, big HVAC systems, really large construction sites are using IoT for safety and location of where all the employees who are working. Often, in that industrial world, you already got in place automation to connect things together. You hear the term ‘digital twin,’ where what you're doing is you're building the digital side and slowly going to migrate over from the traditional analog world into having this full connectivity to a digital world. Replacing all of that digital infrastructure takes time.”

It seems likely that industrial and governmental projects will gather steam in the next few years, he says, because major infrastructure projects are expensive and comparatively slow to plan and execute: “If you're creating a new factory from scratch, you're probably more likely to put in digital-enabled systems—lighting or conveyor belts, robotics, and so on—to retrofit an older manufacturing facility. If you've got a big fleet of harvesters and watering systems and fertilizer systems, replacing all of that digital infrastructure takes time.”

And while public sector IoT appears to be lagging, that’s largely because of competition for scarce resources. “They’re just at the early stages of doing prototyping and proof of concept before there are big rollouts,” says Intersimone. Prototyping is particularly critical in the public sector because IoT projects compete with established interests such as police and fire.

Happily, IoT skills are easy to acquire

How do you adapt your job skills to the world of IoT? Fortunately, says Intersimone, a 40-plus-year veteran of software evangelization, it’s easy to buy devices on which to learn. “How did I learn to connect to IoT devices? Well, I looked at the devices. In my case, a lot of them were using Bluetooth or Bluetooth Low Energy, and they had a protocol. They had a data packet format; I could get that data and do something with it, like turn my lights on and off or change the thermostat.”

“Skills-wise, the biggest challenge is learning hardware and a lot of the basics around circuits and electrical components,” says Alice Hill, CEO of Hackbright Academy, a San Francisco-based coding school for women, and a veteran CTO and former president of Slashdot Media. “A lot of the shortages in IoT talent came from the web devouring engineering talent and making hardware engineering a track not really seen outside of the military.”

In many ways, the advice we gave you last year about landing an IoT job still holds: Exploit the market’s skills gap, know what you need to learn (and learn it), focus on security, and learn how to manage both devices and people.

If you need those skills, you don’t need an industrial assembly line to acquire them. “The maker movement and the low-cost processors like Arduino and Raspberry Pi have made working with sensors and hardware more accessible,” Hill notes. “Sensors also generate massive amounts of data, so having a strong understanding of big data and data mining is key.”

“There's lots of very low-priced devices that people can play around with in the world of consumer devices,” Intersimone notes. Consumer-oriented motion sensors and beacons are an Amazon click away. “The protocols are similar. It’s a little harder to buy a digital controller for a wind farm, for example, but the protocols are similar. Learn how to connect to it, control it, get data from it. There's lots of videos and tutorials from all the vendors and sample code. There's alliances, different IoT alliances, that are out there trying to help stimulate this world and development. There's a lot of those things.”

IoT careers: Lessons for leaders

If you want to step up to the world of IoT:

  • Buy a bunch of cheap sensors and learn to talk (and listen) to them.
  • Learn security, cloud, and big data skills—as you might expect, they are the most valuable.
  • Focus on consumer apps, which is where the obvious action is today. But industrial and public-sector work will be big-ticket projects.

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.